Viewing Mauna Loa volcanic eruption

How Southwest, Hawaiian Responded to Volcano + How To See Mauna Loa

With last week’s long-awaited eruption of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, many questions immediately arose, including whether it is safe to fly to, from, and within Hawaii at this time.

Jon Snook, Hawaiian COO, said, “When eruptions occur in the islands, they aren’t usually extreme pyroclastic ash events – that’s not the type of volcanoes we have in Hawaii.”

When the event occurred, all airlines flying to Hawaii took immediate notice and were in touch with all meteorological and geological resources. Since the eruption occurred during the night, it took some hours until daylight to determine how severe an ash event was taking place. Ash is highly corrosive to jet engines.

Hawaiian and Southwest went in two directions initially.

Southwest Airlines, acting out of an abundance of caution and with obviously far less experience flying in the islands, decided to cancel all flights to and from Hilo the following day. Smart move. They went back to their regular schedule the day after.

Hawaiian Airlines, on the other hand, took a different approach. “We decided that night to delay some of the morning’s first Hilo flights until we could better understand the air quality. Once the sun rose, reports verified there were no dangerous ash levels in the air, and we knew we could operate as usual.”

An exciting time to visit Hawaii.

It isn’t that often that you can witness a volcanic eruption. Your editors did so once, some years ago, in 2018, during the Kilauea eruption on the Big Island. That was the last significant eruption and destroyed more than 600 homes while producing bright orange lava streaming down the volcano and into the ocean.

Viewing the volcanic eruption.

So it is not only safe to visit Hawaii but also an opportunity to experience something that very few people ever do. There are helicopters available as well for a hefty price. You can also see it from the Gilbert Kahele Recreation Area, at the mid-point of the Saddle Road (Daniel K. Inouye State Highway), 40 minutes from Hilo, and 50 minutes from Kona. Parking and restrooms are available. Remember that no parking is allowed between mile markers 16 and 31. The best viewing is at night (with very early morning most recommended), and flashlights and warm clothing are recommended.

Hawaiian contrasted these two Hawaii volcanic events, saying, “This event is similar to Kīlauea in that it is a relatively calm eruption compared to pyroclastic eruptions like the ones that recently erupted in Iceland and Tonga.”

In Hawaiian culture, lava and volcanoes are treated with great respect, and these events are considered sacred. It is also an extraordinary event in terms of the force of nature.

Have you viewed the eruption at Mauna Loa?

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7 thoughts on “How Southwest, Hawaiian Responded to Volcano + How To See Mauna Loa”

  1. We are here on Big Island now. Yesterday 12/8 we viewed Mauna Loa lava during the day from the Kilauea eruption viewing area, so 2 at once.Then we drove around to Hilo and over the Saddle Rd. Stopped at offical viewing one way road and seen nothing. Whether foggy or fissure 3 died down. We then headed back to Waimea via Old Saddle Rd and could see lava fount and lava river real clear right near Saddle Rd. Now its time to leave for BBQ brisket at the Fish and Hog in Waimea. The best.

  2. We were lucky enough to have scheduled our vacation to be on the Big Island now while the volcano is erupting – truly a once in a lifetime experience.
    They have done a Great job of setting up a viewing area to watch Mauna Loa erupting – a two way road that has been set up as a one way road, where you park on the right and pass on the left. Don’t park on the highway – it’s $1000 fine for stopping there!

    I think the two best areas to park for great views was nearer the beginning where you can see the lava from a side view or near the end of the viewing area where you can see the lava flowing down and it spreading out at the base (there weren’t many spaces at the end at 4:45am).

    Dress warm – it’s really cold. Take binoculars & coffee.

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  3. My husband and I recently flew from Oahu, where we live, to the Big Island. We’d already planned the trip, so it was just fortunate coincidence that the timing worked out. Our spot for viewing the lava was on Mauna Kea Access Road. We drove all the way up to the visitor’s center, then turned around and drove back down the road until we spotted a good turn-off spot to park. It was late afternoon when we arrived, so we waited for darkness to fall. The lava was spectacular! We opted for that location rather than Old Saddle Road or the Kahele Recreation Area, because those places were much busier, noisier, and there were headlights. Our spot seemed almost private because there were so few people around us.

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  4. Thank you for the updated information. We are traveling to Kona and was getting conflicting information on travel info Kona.

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  5. Yes, I live in Kona and went up to Saddle Rd last Wednesday night (11/30). Wow! Awesome, spectacular, and incredible (and not coming toward Kona or any other inhabited areas!) Lots of traffic and visitors at the moment.

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